The word ocean is so beautiful that it is a mantra all by itself. Listen to the sound of it––Ooooohhhhh turning into shhhhnnnnn. It has a susurration* that lends itself to meditation, a variation on OM. The physical reality of the ocean is a great arena for meditation, meditative focus, and meditation instruction for those who love vastness and waves. Some of us have a primordial intuition that we come from the ocean.
Our bodies are mostly water –– salty water. We are, in a sense, a part of the ocean that is up here walking around on Earth. We carry within us a private ocean: our bloodstream is flowing and pulsing through tens of thousands of miles of blood vessels, many of them microscopic, barely bigger than a blood cell. When we meditate we are invited to delight in this inner sea and be refreshed.
Another ocean that we are part of is the atmosphere. The Earth is a sphere and the atmosphere is an ocean of air surrounding the world. When we breathe in, this ocean of air comes into our bodies as a wave and circulates to every cell. The universe flows in and suffuses us with fresh air that is always new in every moment. In this meeting of the outer ocean of air and the inner ocean of our fluid bodies, life is renewed. This renewal is a cause for celebration.
Meditation can be thought of as a meeting of oceans––the outer ocean of air and the inner ocean of our fluid nature. In many Sanskrit meditation texts a number of words refer to the ocean or include ocean in their definitions. Nitya, a central term in meditation texts, is defined as “innate, native. One’s own. Eternal. Constantly dwelling or engaged in. The sea, ocean.” If we take this one word and play with it we can hear, “I am a native of eternity. I am at home in the ocean of eternity.”
Samgama is used in the instructions for sexual meditation and is defined as “coming together, union, intercourse, the coming together of a river and the ocean, a joining of two rivers or the rivers and the ocean. The sacred coming together of two rivers, sexual union.” In lovemaking, the rivers of energy streaming through the body come together and it is like two rivers joining, or rivers flowing into the ocean. Orgasm is a doorway into oceanic experience, the sense of floating in peaceful vastness.
Marut is used in the instructions for breathing meditations and has an exciting set of images and meanings: “The flashing or shining ones, storm gods, children of heaven or of the ocean. Wind, air, breath, the five pranas of the body: prana, apana, samana, udana, and vyana.” Marut means all of this and suggests that the air we breathe is born of heaven and of the ocean.
In The Radiance Sutras, a version of the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, Shiva and the Goddess are talking about the love play between a human body and the ocean of air.
Enter these turning points,
Where the rhythms of life transform
Into each other.
Breath flows in, filling, filling,
In this moment, drink eternity.
Breath flows out, emptying, emptying,
Offering itself to infinity.
Cherishing these moments,
Mind dissolves into heart,
Heart dissolves into space,
Body becomes a vibrating field,
Pulsating between fullness and emptiness.
na vrajet na vishet shaktih
na vrajet – Not moving.
na vishet – Not in a specific direction.
shakti – Power, ability, strength, might, effort, energy, skill.
marut – Prana-suffused air.
rupa – Appearance, color, shape, grace, beauty, splendor, nature.
vikisita – Caused to expand, expanded, blown.
nirvikalpa – Free from change or differences, admitting no doubt, not wavering.
madhye – Middle, the middle that embraces all. In the middle of the body. The belly, abdomen. A woman’s waist. In algebra, the middle term or the mean of progression. The middle finger. In music, a particular tone, also a kind of meter. The middle of the sky. The space between (the eyebrows).
taya – By or through.
Bhairava – A name of Shiva (Siva). Terror or the property of exciting terror. In music, the name of a raga.
As always, 32 syllables of Sanskrit chanting resonate with vast meaning. There are many hints for practice here. Find your way into the middle (madhya) and be unwavering in-between the two turning points, where breathing changes from in to out and from out to in. Where is the middle? The middle can be the current of sensation flowing at the center of the spine. Savor the turning points from the central channel of your spine.
Many different approaches to breath meditation are suggested here. One hint is to experience how breath flows in as a wave and pauses at the furthest reach, then flows out again. Today in class, a woman said, “That is the juicy point for me, where the breath turns from in to out and out to in.” She was sparkling with delight as she said it.
Life is rhythm. Our hearts beat, our brains flash with electrical waves, breath moves in and out, and we flow in a sequential pulsation of waking, sleeping, and dreaming. Meditation is not a stoppage and stagnation of the rhythm of life, rather it is a way of being centered and in tune, following the beat of our own heart. When we delight in the rhythm of breathing many senses give us information about what is happening—smell, temperature, touch, motion, balance, and hearing, to name some of the more obvious senses. As we attend to these senses our experience of life itself is enriched.
Wave motion is a natural and essential movement of the life within us. When we allow our attention to be enchanted by the wave motion of breath, it is sensual. There is no particular reason to sit still when meditating with the breath. We can join with the motion of breathing by dancing and undulating. It is particularly profound to let wave motions ripple through your spine, from one end to the other. When you tune into your inner world, you realize this subtle wave motion is always going on, which feels like coming home to your body, to nature, and to the primordial movement of life.
*susurration is related to the Sanskrit svarati, “sounds, resounds.”
** Thanks to Dr. John Casey for consulting on Sanskrit pronunciation.